Brian Schottenheimer can't take the fall for Tavon Austin any more. The former Rams offensive coordinator is at the University of Georgia now, facing a whole different sort of professional pressure.
Frank Cignetti moved over to the Rams hot seat for this season and made some changes in the run-oriented attack. Nick Foles arrived to play quarterback, bringing a long arm and more height to the position.
Will these changes spur a breakout season from Austin? SI.com columnist Don Banks explored that topic:
If Nick Foles really is the answer at quarterback for the Rams this season, then the questions about Tavon Austin’s production might finally cease. See how that works? Shore up the Rams’ long-standing issues at the game’s most critical position, and the ripple effect promises to lead in a lot of different positive directions.
That’s the plan at least in St. Louis, where arguably no one stands to benefit more from Foles's arrival than Austin, the undersized receiver-return specialist whose play has yet to live up to the lofty expectations that came with the Rams trading up to select him eighth overall in the 2013 draft, making him the first receiver taken.
Austin hears the steady background noise as he enters his pivotal third NFL season. He knows it’s time to show more than flashes of the tantalizing and versatile skill set that made him a top 10 pick. But he also realizes his first two years in the NFL featured four different Rams quarterbacks throwing to him, and 25 of those 32 games were started by the likes of career backups Kellen Clemens (nine), Shaun Hill (eight) and Austin Davis (eight). Sam Bradford, the Rams’ oft-injured franchise passer, played just seven games with Austin, losing most of the past two years to season-ending ACL tears. That most definitely was not the plan.
But enter Foles, the former Eagles starter who was traded to St. Louis in exchange for Bradford, and add in the elevation of Rams quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti to offensive coordinator in place of the departed Brian Schottenheimer, and there’s hope that a new quarterback and new play-caller will translate to a dramatically new level of playmaking impact by Austin. Sounds like a plausible preseason storyline, but only time will tell if it comes to pass.
Yes, well, because it's up to Austin to prove he really is an impact player. Thus far he has been an eighth-overall pick playing like a third- or fourth-round selection.
Fans and experts alike blamed Schottenheimer for failing to utilize Austin correctly, but there is no evidence that Tavon can actually get separation against NFL defenses.
Did Rams quarterbacks fail to spot him because he is short? Or as it the fact he was seldom open?
Much of his activity to this point has come on swing passes, sweeps, slant passes, runs up the middle and the occasional ill-advised fade pass toward the end zone corner. He took a step back in Year 2, struggling to do what he is supposed to do best -- make defenders miss in the open field.
And what about his route-running? The transition from college to the pro game these days can be very hard for receivers not trained to run precise NFL-style patterns.
So we'll see about Austin. He appears to be healthy again, back to full speed. He is working hard and saying all the right things in his interviews.
There are no excuses now. It's time to produce.
MYSTERIES OF THE UNIVERSE
Questions to ponder while wondering how much gas is left in the Cardinal bullpen for today's game:
WHAT OTHERS ARE WRITING
Here are sports takes from some of our favorite scribes:
Bill Barnwell, ESPN.com: "The 2014 Cardinals were an 11-5 team that outscored their opposition by a mere 11 points. There have been 88 other 11-5 teams since the league went to the 16-game schedule, and 86 of those 88 teams posted a better point differential than these Cardinals. Head coach Bruce Arians is very familiar with one of those two other teams, since he was at the helm for most of its stunning season as the interim head coach of the 2012 Colts. They kept their 11-win stretch up despite a variety of numerical indicators suggesting they would decline. The other example, the 2004 Falcons, dropped off from 11-5 to 8-8 the following year. Different paths! The 11-point differential suggests the Cardinals were basically about average. The Pythagorean expectation has them playing at the level of an 8.3-win team last season. That gap between their actual win total and their expected win total, 2.7 wins, is the largest in football. No other team had a gap of two wins or more, with the Bengals in second at 1.9 wins."
Mike Tanier, Bleacher Report: "The Eagles' offseason was so tumultuous that some of the stranger details were easy to forget. Frank Gore agreed to contract terms then backed away to sign with the Colts instead. (DeMarco) Murray and Ryan Mathews arrived at Eagles headquarters at the same time to apply for the same job; both were hired. Also, there were nonstop rumors about a Marcus Mariota trade. And then (Tim) Tebow. The final haul was heavy on players coming off major injuries (Sam Bradford, Kiko Alonso), players with hefty price tags (Bradford, Murray, Byron Maxwell), (Chip) Kelly’s former Oregon players (Alonso, Walter Thurmond), major risks and baffling questions. The Eagles’ offseason transactions flew in the face of both conventional wisdom and the football management survival instinct. A new coach on a rebuilding team might swap quarterbacks, running backs, and much more to jump-start his regime. But coaches of 10-win teams are hardwired to keep the team intact for 10 more wins so everyone stays employed. Gamble big and lose big, and the house goes on the market, the kids get pulled out of school, and everyone’s careers go (at best) sideways."
Tim Brown, Yahoo! Sports: "The Yankees? What are the Yankees doing so far ahead? We liked them as the arrogant, occasionally clumsy, predictably immoderate franchise, because every league needs a good villain. We like them more now that they’re entirely imperfect, a little scrappy and playing over their traditionally overinflated views of themselves. Yeah, the Yankees as underdogs isn’t going to play in towns where they put off paying the phone bill so they can pay the catcher. But put aside the $218 million payroll and consider that wasn’t supposed to be an advantage anymore. It was the very thing that was to bury the Yankees, because almost half of that was tied up in CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Masahiro Tanaka. Another $55 million was going to Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann. The Yankees always talked about getting younger and more athletic, but don’t we all. And we know how that’s turning out for most of us. Man for man, as of a few days ago, the Blue Jays appear to be the better team. But the Yankees have a six-game head start with two months to go. The Yankees and Blue Jays will play six times in 10 days starting Friday in New York, and seven times in 14 days in mid-September. Those games will go a long way to deciding what’s what in the AL East."
Anthony Castrovince, MLB.com: "The Yanks didn't used to talk this way or act this way. But with so many cumbersome contracts already on the books, they've come to embrace the idea that controllable assets are the fabric of this game, even for a team with deep pockets. You see this in the way the Andrew Friedman-led Los Angeles Dodgers are operating right now, using their financial might to take on other people's problems, so long as it nets them young talent in return. An obvious potential problem is that (pitcher Luis) Severino might simply not be ready for the limelight. He's being thrust right into it. Even if the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry does not currently have the standings significance it once did, it still has an aura about it. And with Michael Pineda ruled out until September with a forearm strain, Masahiro's elbow ligament a constant source of concern and CC Sabathia a mere shell of his once-dominant self, there's more than the usual amount of pressure on this kid to perform. Really, wrack your brain and try to think of the last time the Yanks turned to a rookie in this prominent a role this late in a season in which they were contending. Shane Spencer had a big breakout at the end of 1998, but he was a part-time player on a team that was already cruising toward 114 wins. Robinson Cano took over for Tony Womack at second base in 2005, but that was early in the season."
"Franchise quarterbacks hit the free-agent market? Name one. Unless they have an injury. So it's going to be an onus on our scouting staff to find a guy in the lower first round, second or third round. We accept that challenge. It's where we are, and it's been good that we have enough talent around that we're in that situation, but it's not an easy answer. There isn't."
Buffalo Bills GM Doug Whaley, to WGR radio.